Honolulu Super Cheap Eats Under $6
It’s not easy to find meals for $6 or less in Honolulu, and the quest is even more challenging when you narrow the search to those that are memorable.
The criteria were simple: They had to be filling enough to satisfy a moderate appetite and tasty enough to recommend to friends. The price was capped at $6 before tax. We sampled far more than the dishes you’ll find below, but, in the end, these did a good job of balancing flavor and value—and, happily, all were memorable.
Banh mi Saigon, Ngon, $6
The $6 Banh Mi Saigon at NGON—bursting with fresh flavors and easy on the wallet.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
You can tell a true banh mi by the crackle of the freshly warmed baguette and the slathering of pate. In Saigon, a good schmear of butter goes on the upper crust; at Kakaako’s Ngon, the schmear gets elevated to a hollandaise. In a nod to American palates, the pickled veggies and cilantro are accompanied by your choice of pork or chicken in restrained amounts that don’t overwhelm the other flavors—but you don’t have to go there. Try it as a true banh mi pate.
941 Kawaiahao St., 593-9893
Stewed beef wonton noodles, Rainbow Tea Stop, $5.75
The food court at Maunakea Marketplace isn’t where you’d expect to find a soul-soothing bowl of Chinese noodles, which makes Rainbow Tea Stop’s all the better. The housemade wontons release the scent of sesame oil at first bite, the porky centers bounce back against your teeth and the chunks of beef flank are seasoned and tender. When you’re done, don’t walk away without trying the best custard tart in town. At Rainbow, it’s only $1.
1120 Maunakea St., 386-3388, rainbowteastop.com
Menehune quesadilla, Taco Kabana, $3
The best deal at Taco Kabana, a lunch wagon across Kapiolani Boulevard from the Pan Am Building, isn’t the $1.75 tacos or either of the other two items on the menu. It’s the secret, off-menu Menehune Quesadilla: your choice of carne asada or grilled chicken, cheese, onions, tomatoes and cilantro between two small, grilled, corn tortillas. The meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free, and the onions, from Mexico—like owner Daniel Rodriguez’s parents—are sweet. This quesadilla bulges. Pick it up and eat it like a burger.
1637 Kapiolani Blvd., 364-4729
Mini mix bento, Okata Bento, $5.75
If you’ve ever noticed people randomly standing on a Kaimuki sidewalk for no apparent reason, it’s because every burger and bento at this hole-in-the-wall is cooked to order. “Each bento includes rice, mahimahi, luncheon meat, eggroll, takuan, kamaboko, ume & shredded cabbage,” the sign says—including the mini mix bento, before your two choices go in. Try the crispy chicken katsu and beef teriyaki, both cooked on the flat-top grill while you wait, as are your two pieces of mahi, freshly dipped in egg.
3616 Waialae Ave., 737-6063
Windward Shoppers: At the Kailua Whole Foods, you can get a pint and pizza for just $5 during happy hour.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
Taco Tuesday tacos, Whole Foods Market Kahala, $1.00
Almost as shocking as finding a $1 taco at pricey Whole Foods is the sheer volume of toppings on it. Choose from the chain’s famously hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, pork or veggies, pico de gallo or raw onions and cilantro, plus hot sauce, all made to order by the pizza counter from lunch until closing every Tuesday. The small corn tortillas are thick and ungrilled and the fillings could use some salt, but the tacos, so loaded they’re almost impossible to fold over, will leave you stuffed.
Kahala Mall, 4211 Waialae Ave., 738-0820 (at Kahala store only)
Kimukatsutei bento, Kimukatsutei, $6.00
Leave it to the katsu-crazy Japanese to coat a hamburger in panko crumbs and deep-fry it. The resulting menchi (mince) katsu is the centerpiece of the bento at Kimukatsutei in Shirokiya’s Yataimura: It comes with rice, a side of fruity curry, a small salad, ham, crinkle-cut fries, soybeans and grapes—unusual unless you’ve seen other Japanese-style bentos, and a serious deal considering the kid’s meal costs $6.50. Drizzle the packet of tonkatsu sauce over your menchi, pour the curry on top or do both.
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., kimukatsu.com/kimukatsu_eng/ (at Shirokiya location only)
Soft tofu chige or meat jun, Chodang, $5.75.
Soft tofu chige or meat jun, Chodang, $5.75
Chodang is known for full-size Korean spreads at mini prices. If you’re hungry, neither of these will disappoint: A bubbling iron pot of fiery broth filled with soft tofu and a few slices of mushroom, or a heaping plate of paper-thin beef fried in a generous egg coating, both served with rice and a half-dozen banchan side dishes. Not gourmet, but neither is the price (which includes tax). Plus, Chodang is open late—until 1 a.m.
Monday through Saturday. 451 Piikoi St., 591-0530
Tuna avocado sandwich, Andy's Sandwiches & Smoothies, $4.75
If you’re like most people, you’ll get the top-selling, fresh-roasted turkey sandwiches. If you’re like us, you’ll get the tuna avocado: tuna salad and a creamy avocado puree topped with seasonings, mayo, veggies and a hefty handful of sprouts on housemade whole wheat bread. We thought Andy’s, a Manoa icon for 37 years, was in the Starbucks building. “No, no, no,” owner Andy Rodrigues corrects us. “Starbucks is in my building.”
2904 E. Manoa Road, 988-6161, andyssandwiches.com
Wonton bowl, Palace Saimin, $5
Cold days are made for hot, soupy bowls—or is that vice versa? You won’t go wrong with the saimin at Palace, which makes its broth the same way it did when it opened in 1946. For $5 you can get nine meaty, handmade wontons bathed in a steaming broth topped with green onions and char siu. A dollar more gets you a bowl of 14 wontons. Go easy on the Chinese mustard that comes with it; it’ll burn a hole through your head.
1256 N. King St., 841-9983, palacesaimin.com
Crepe pocket with beef and veggies, Season's Ice and Eatery, $4.75
It’s like Taiwanese beef noodle soup in burrito form: The shao bing is sesame flatbread stuffed with braised beef, crunchy preserved vegetables, cilantro and bean sprouts. It comes with a peanut and sugar powder to sprinkle on. If you’re not a fan of the sweet-salty combination, use the housemade spicy garlic sauce, tangy and pungent, available in a jug on each table. Pretty much everything at this Taiwanese eatery costs less than $7, so you can go nuts.
100 N. Beretania St., 538-1978
Hummus sandwich, Shaloha, $5.74
Photos: Steve Czerniak
The counter guy grabs a freshly baked pita, trims off the top, swipes the scrap through a pan of hummus and hands it to you. Wafting notes of garlic with a slight tang, it’s just right. You chew while you watch your sandwich being made in the open pita pocket: Israeli-style veggies of your choice, hummus, more salads, tahini. It’s massive, juicy, crunchy from the red cabbage slaw, so good. With tax, it’s an even $6.
3133 Waialae Ave., 744-4222, shalohapita.com
Hulihuli chicken plate, Times Supermarket, $5.99
Times’ website calls it BBQ chicken; the menu board calls it huli huli. Just get the chicken plate (it comes with three sides). Since the tantalizing scents of chicken grilling in the parking lot and basting juicily in a light teriyaki led us to the happy discovery of chicken Tuesdays at Times Beretania, we’ve become addicted.
Schedule and locations vary; check the website. timessupermarkets.com
Mini plate, Gina's B-B-Q, $5.25
You may already know that a regular plate at Gina’s, mounded into groaning Styrofoam, can feed a family. So you won’t be surprised that what passes for a regular plate elsewhere is a mini here: two scoops rice, two sides of your choice, plus barbecued chicken and barbecued beef served up hot from the griddle. The chicken alone, slightly charred and juicy, will have you coming back.
Market City Shopping Center, 2919 Kapiolani Blvd., 735-7964, ginasbbq.com
Shanghai wonton, Shanghai Cafe, $5.75
“Cafe” is a generous term for a place that looks more like a crack seed and Chinese furniture shop, with a few food photos stuck in the window and a closet that serves as a “kitchen.” But it turns out some good, homey snacks, like these oversize dumplings packed with bok choy and pork. It also has the best sheng jian bao around, pan-fried buns made to order (best to call ahead half an hour for these).
1047 Bethel St., 599-3767
HankBurger, Hank’s Haute Dogs, $5.50
The secret’s in the char, in a clever coating of secret seasonings that not only flavors the HankBurger, it gives it a crust to contrast with the juicy beef. Since the 1/3-pound patty is cooked to medium, the juices do run. Add an old-fashioned sauce of ketchup, mayo and mustard, and you’ve got gourmet eats at food-truck prices. Hank Adaniya may be known for his haute dogs, but the HankBurger proves success comes in many shapes.
324 Coral St., 532-4265, and Hank's Burger Truck, University of Hawaii at Manoa on Tuesdays and Fridays*
*Update March 11, 2014: As of this writing, Hank's Burger Truck no longer serves University of Hawaii at Manoa on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Omelet rice, Kokoro Tei, $5.50
In Japan, omurice is popular with college students and other big eaters because it’s cheap, tasty and filling. The same can be said about Kokoro Tei’s omelet rice: a plateful of rice mixed with chicken and onions and topped with a meaty demi-glace, all under a fluffy blanket of fried eggs. It’s cooked to order, so call ahead or be prepared to wait 10 minutes. It’s also the perfect dish after a pub crawl—too bad Kokoro Tei closes at 8. (About two-thirds of the made-to-order bentos, by the way, are also less than $6.)
2424 S. Beretania St., 951-5656; 2310 Kuhio Ave., 924-8500
Slice of pizza, Agostino's, $5
Agostino Trentecoste slides a freshly made pizza into a wood-fired oven, set up in the parking lot of a Waikiki coin laundry. “The recipe is 90 years old!” Trentecoste says everything with gusto. “It’s from my great-grandfather!” Sold by the giant, quarter-pie slice for $5, the pizza is bright with a simple marinara, full of deep garlic flavors and sitting atop a crust that’s thin and soft enough to fold over, yet crispy and chewy at the edges. “My family is seven generations in Sicilia!” Trentecoste proclaims. “This is Sicilian pizza.”
2463 Kuhio Ave., 469-7053
Saimin Burger, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, $5.95
Knock-offs are always cheaper than the original: L&L’s saimin burger is almost half the price of the original Ramen Burger. L&L’s version uses a pretty standard fast-food hamburger patty, but the teriyaki-like sauce and crisped-up saimin noodles that form the buns of this sandwich make it totally enjoyable. Not to mention definitely memorable.
Multiple locations, hawaiianbarbecue.com
Lay it on. Why an egg? Japanese love it, yes, but raw egg is also a traditional dipping sauce for sukiyaki.
Photo: Steve Czerniak
Sweet beef bowl, Marukame Udon, $5.20
The happiest bowl at Marukame, the cafeteria-style Japanese udon specialist, has no noodles at all. The minimalist-sounding sweet beef bowl starts with a generous portion of rice that’s topped with a ring of paper-thin beef and onions simmered in a light soy. Add colorful mounds of red ginger, briny nori, green onion, tempura sprinkles and, if you like, a barely poached egg, and there’s more than enough to keep your palate dancing.
1104 Fort St. Mall, 545-3000 (at downtown location only)
Kimchee fried rice, Sidewalk Deli, $5.00
Find this little convenience store in a corner of Fort Street Mall for the kimchee fried rice, made with housemade kimchee and capped with a thin sheet of fried egg. It’s homey and comforting, as is the experience—the friendly Korean auntie who runs the shop makes the rice on a plug-in electric griddle.
Chaplain Lane at Fort Street Mall
Moroccan chicken, Da Spot, $6
One bite of Da Spot’s honey-tinged Moroccan chicken, and you’ll understand why cinnamon belongs with meat. In fact, you’ll get the whole sweet-savory-spice balance that makes a lot of meat dishes along the ancient world’s spice route sing. If you go with the mini plate, you’ll also get a green salad and two scoops rice of your choice. Make like the regulars and ask for extra sauce on the rice.
2469 S. King St., 941-1313.
Avocado sandwich, Summer Frappe, $5
This Chinatown spot is well-known for its fresh fruit smoothies, less-known for its banh mi. While the sandwiches are not traditional, they are delicious. The avocado one is a favorite—what appears to be an entire avocado jammed into a Vietnamese baguette, topped with a salad of veggies, pickled daikon and carrots, and some Maggi sauce for seasoning.
82 N. Pauahi St.
Tomato bisque, Aloha Salads, $5.50
At Aloha Salads, $5.50 gets you an 8-ounce bowl of divinely rich bisque topped with fresh basil and parmesan, plus a good half-round of warm pita bread to go with it. It’s soup from a takeout counter, but it feels indulgent.
Locations at Kahala Mall, Kailua Shopping Center, Kapolei Commons Shopping Center and 1102 Bishop St., alohasalads.com